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September 15, 2009

Future Shock

Great Leaps Forward, AL

by Kevin Goldstein

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Season wrap-ups also give us a chance to revisit our Great Leap Forward series, looking at those minor leaguers who saw their stock jump the most. [We'll have a recap of the seasonal statistical leaders on the pitching side of things later this week.]

Baltimore Orioles: Acquired from the Reds in the offseason as part of the package for catcher Ramon Hernandez, corner infielder Brandon Waring still has plenty of questions about his future position as well as a high strikeout rate, but he also hit more than twice the home runs of anyone else in the organization with 27, finishing the year at Double-A with .274/.357/.521 numbers.
Runner-Up: A 2008 seventh-round pick out of Lipscomb, catcher Caleb Joseph showed a quick bat and gap power, while batting .284/.337/.450 for High-A Frederick while earning high praise for his makeup.

Boston Red Sox: After playing only shortstop in 2008 after getting a $3 million bonus as a first-round pick in 2008, right-hander Casey Kelly began 2009 on the mound, where he was an absolute revelation, putting up a 2.08 ERA across two levels while allowing just 65 hits in 95 innings with above-average stuff and command. After batting .222/.302/.340 in the second half while back at shortstop, the Red Sox hope he's now convinced as to where his future lies.
Runner-Up: Making a remarkable comeback from Hodgkin's lymphoma, first baseman Anthony Rizzo hit .297/.368/.461 across two levels and could begin 2010 as a 20-year-old starter in Double-A.

Chicago White Sox: The breakout pitcher of the year, right-hander Dan Hudson went from a non-descript fifth-round pick in 2008 to a big-leaguer, pitching at all four full-season affiliates while finishing with a 2.32 ERA and a remarkable 166/34 strikeout/walk ratio in 147 1/3 innings. All of the scouting evidence indicates that this breakout's for real.
Runner-Up: An undrafted free agent out of Arizona, all C.J. Retherford has done is hit at every level. That continued at Double-A, as the second baseman hit .297/.340/.473 in 128 games for the Barons, including 46 doubles.

Cleveland Indians: Some teams wondered if third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall was truly worthy of a first-round selection last year, but he responded to the challenge of a High-A assignment with a .276/.346/.492 line for Kinston before finishing the year at Double-A, and finishing among the organizational leaders with 22 homers and 92 runs driven in.
Runner-Up: The Indians always had high hopes for 21-year-old Venezuelan righty Jeanmar Gomez, and their patience finally began to pay off as he put up a 3.43 ERA at Double-A Akron while flashing two above-average pitchers with his fastball/breaking ball combination.

Detroit Tigers: Entering the year as the official sleeper in the system, catcher Alex Avila began his first full year at Double-A Erie and hit .264/.365/.450 with outstanding secondary skills and plus defense before getting a surprising call to the big leagues. He's outplayed Gerald Laird since arriving in Detroit, and could enter next spring as the favorite for the everyday job.
Runner-Up: A third-round pick in 2006, gigantic right fielder Brennan Boesch hit just 22 home runs in 307 games coming into the year, but he exploded with an organization-high 28 home runs at Erie as part of a .275/.318/.510 line. The middle number in that group immediately tells you that the approach needs work, though.

Kansas City Royals: Outfielder David Lough combined impressive tools will considerable rawness last year while playing at Low-A Burlington, but he put everything together in 2009, batting .325/.376/.496 across two levels, including a .331/.371/.517 mark at Double-A Arkansas. Already boasting a dangerous power/speed combination with an instinctual feel for contact, if he develops better plate discipline he could move up even further.
Runner-Up: The Royals have one of the most impressive collections of young pitching around, with so many arms meeting or exceeding expectations, but I'll use this spot to once again note lefty Mike Montgomery, who could be in Double-A next as a 20-year-old; he's a big, very athletic left-hander with well above-average stuff.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: A 19th-round pick in 2006 out of Loyala Marymount, outfielder Chris Pettit was a breakout performer in 2007, but saw his stock slide with a rash of injuries last year. He's been healthy once again this year, though, and earned a big-league call-up in September with a .321/.383/.482 line at Triple-A Salt Lake.
Runner-Up: Righty Ryan Chaffee's 4.33 ERA at Low-a Cedar Rapids doesn't excite anyone at first glance, but while has seeming inability to throw anything straight led to 65 walks in 116 1/3 innings, it also generated 121 strikeouts and a grounders-to-flies ratio of 2.64.

Minnesota Twins: First baseman Chris Parmelee didn't have a blow-you-away year with his .258/.359/.441 line at High-A Fort Myers, but that's a tough park in a tough league, and his 16 home runs tied for third in the circuit. His strikeout rate also went way down, so there might be something here yet.
Runner-Up: A little-known 19th-round pick in 2008, righty Bruce Pugh pitched well out of the Beloit bullpen, but really stepped forward with a late-season move to the rotation, putting up a 1.74 ERA in eight starts with 65 whiffs in 52 1/3 innings and a fastball that consistently sat at 94 mph.

New York Yankees: Even though he began the year as the top prospect in the system, catcher Jesus Montero went from best prospect in the Yankee system to one of the best in all of baseball by batting .337/.389/.562 across two levels, and having no problems handling Double-A pitching as a teenager. For those questioning his age, remember, he's Venezuelan, so it's legit.
Runner-Up: A 10th-round pick last year who signed for nearly half a million, righty D.J. Mitchell cruised through the Sally League, posted a 2.87 ERA at High-A Tampa, and compiled a ground-ball ratio of nearly 3-to-1.

Oakland Athletics: A second-round pick in 2007 who played entered the year with just 14 career games played thanks to a disastrous run of injuries, outfielder Grant Desme more than made up for lost time, batting .288/.365/.568 across Oakland's two A-ball affiliates while leading the minors in power/speed number (34.9) with 31 home runs and 40 stolen bases.
Runner-Up: A 31st-round pick last year, right-hander Mickey Storey pitched for all four Oakland full-season affiliates this year, compiling a 1.22 ERA in 51 2/3 innings while striking out 71, giving up 27 hits and walking just eight. He doesn't blow hitters away with his 89-90 mph fastball, but his curveball is a true hammer, and when combined with his impeccable command, he draws some Justin Duchscherer comparisons.

Seattle Mariners: Yes, playing in the pinball machine environment had a lot to do with it, but Italian third-base prospect Alex Liddi's .345/.411/.594 season still represents a dramatic improvement. He just turned 21 in August, and the tools were always impressive.
Runner-Up: Another Maverick, center fielder Tyson Gillies was the talk of the Futures Game because of his blinding speed, and he finished the year batting .341/.430/.486. High Desert does little to help with plate discipline and running, two of Gillies' skills that should translate as he moves up.

Tampa Bay Rays: After bursting onto the scene in the Appy League last year, Matt Moore finished this year as one of the top left-handed prospects in the game. His control problems (70 BB in 123 IP) are very real, but he still led all minor league pitchers in strikeouts (176) and batting average against (.195), the two 'missed bat' numbers that mean the most in predicting future success.
Runner-Up: A cousin of former Rays reliever Jesus Colome, righty Alex Colome electrified the New York-Penn League with mid-90s heat and a slider that was at times devastating. He finished the season with a 1.66 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 76 innings.

Texas Rangers: Drafted in the 17th round two years ago, the Rangers initially thought about converting Mitch Moreland to the mound, but now they're certainly glad that they didn't. After another monster year, this one split between High- and Double-A, he now sports career averages of .321/.387/.518 in 266 career games. After the bat and the arm, there's not much going for him tools-wise, so he needs to keep hitting.
Runner-Up: While he hit .331 at Low-A Hickory but just .232 at High-A Bakersfield, 2008 eighth-rounder Michael Bianucci showed big power at both levels, finishing with an organization-high 30 home runs.

Toronto Blue Jays: Still seen by many as no more than an oddity, 5-foot-7 right-hander Tim Collins struck out 116 over 77 1/3 relief innings, including 17 in 12 2/3 Double-A frames at the end of the year. Scouts are starting to get past the size, as the performances are becoming just too hard to ignore.
Runner-Up: A former top prospect in the Cubs system who had been all but written off, first baseman Brian Dopirak continued to return to form in 2009, splitting time between Double- and Triple-A while batting .317/.371/.549 with 27 home runs in 139 games. While he turns 26 in December, he's at least deserving of a chance.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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